Wednesday, August 13, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

After looking at Sony’s Gamescom show, it felt very much like an extension of their E3 media briefing. Some exciting new titles and system features were announced, which ultimately added up to a satisfying show.

While I gave credit to Microsoft for their indie treatment at their Gamescom stage show, Sony took it a step further and supplemented their service to indies with the notion of reputation. The Tomorrow Children, Volume, Day Z, Papers, Please… we’ve all heard about the Pixel Junk series and Thomas Was Alone along with the other two aforementioned titles. It’s this level of indie pedigree that we’ve come to expect on Sony’s platforms. Throwing Hellblade into the mix was quite jarring however, with Ninja Theory’s previous work very much existing within the realm of AAA titles from helping kick start the PS3’s line up with Heavenly Sword to developing one of 2013’s best action titles in their Devil May Cry remake last year. Perhaps it’s become cool to be “indie” with no one having a definitive explanation of what “indie” actually is (says the guy talking ad nauseum about indies in this write up).

FarCry 4, like many of the big budget titles shown at Sony’s conference, acted more as a reminder rather than unveiling fresh details. Their Playstation exclusive feature of 10 co-op keys was a nice touch from the announcement last year, however Sony seems to be taking that very concept and running with it with SHARE PLAY.

SHARE PLAY is Sony’s “virtual couch”, allowing you to invite any one of your PSN friends into your game cooperatively or competitively regardless of the fact that they own the game. For the longest time, I’ve owned different games than my friends because of the high frequency in which I accumulate them. “Does my buddy own that… Nope”, “Can I invite my friend to play… Nope”. This can also work as a unique marketing tool to incentivize third party support, essentially making it easier for players to spread word of mouth to each other with just a simple virtual invite. Sony has spent the entirety of last generation catching up to Xbox with online features and functionalities. Today, they are leading the charge in some cases with Playstation Plus, and now paving their own path with SHARE PLAY.

In the realm of Sony exclusives, Driveclub still has a lot to prove than being just another racing sim. As the Forza series has refined standards of the genre, and Ubisoft’s The Crew boasts more tangible social elements than any other racing game, Driveclub lacks distinction, merely existing in the shadow of car culture in gaming. Then we’re finally invited to see just what Media Molecule has been working on all this time.

I can’t help but say that I’m a bit disappointed that MM isn’t announcing a new franchise as what we were misled to believe with the number of teasers before this announcement. That same lack of enthusiasm extends to the idea of Tearaway on the Playstation 4. Though I may have been a little down on Tearaway on the Vita, I know I’m not the only one wondering how this game could be as special on PS4 as it was on Sony’s handheld. What made Tearaway so impressive on the Vita was how it was able to incorporate the Vita’s full arsenal of features: front and rear facing camera, front and rear touch surfaces, and the gyroscope. The PS4 doesn’t wield the same number of moving parts as the Vita out of the box, with only the touch pad, motion control, and light bar to play with. It looks damn good on the console for sure, but how Tearaway would be able to charm with a robust feature set remains to be seen.

But god damn Alienation looks so good.

Not even a year out of the PS4 launch and after Resogun’s awesome update earlier this year, we’re already getting to see Housemarque’s next game. From ship combat in Stardust, to on foot gunplay in Dead Nation, to ships again in Resogun, and back to boots on the ground, Alienation looks like an intensified version of Helldivers. I’ve never quite seen Housemarque do co-op like what’s seen in the Alienation trailer with fending off waves of enemies in a defensive stand-off using shields to protect your teammates. Housemarque’s games are some of the few downloadable titles that I go out of my way to purchase, and I’m so happy to see that they’re working on another game so soon. However as much as I’m excited about Alienation, Wild is probably my Gamescom game of show.

Surviving in a hunters and gatherers environment within an open world on both land and in sea as a human is exciting. Holding out and surviving against the elements has become more and more popular in gaming, largely thanks to genres such as rogue-likes. But Wild’s addition of allowing players to take on the role of any living creature extends the concept of survival several fold, potentially offering various forms of replayability. Hopefully playing as animals won’t just be restricted to fighting off predators, but also includes caring for your young and establishing territory. I hate to coin the phrase, but Wild looks to deliver emergent gameplay in ways which we might not have seen before.

Sony’s Gamescom show was fairly strong for the Playstation 4. And much like what they did at E3, they took the time to briefly mention Morpheus and Playstation TV. But unfortunately also like E3, Sony’s talked zip about Vita. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise as Shuhei Yoshida after E3 this year explicitly stated that they are pulling back their first party support for the Vita to allow indie developers provide software for the platform. It’s ostensibly cost effective when you think about it as with such a low number of units sold, indies can benefit from the strong attach rate of the system much more than Sony can if they decided to throw money at it; but Sony’s not helping the problem by neglecting it at trade show stages. You’re so heavily focused on indies? Then talk about the slew of indie titles coming to the platform. Disappointed about the Vita’s sales? Then start talking about it.

But when looking at Gamescom strictly through the lens of the Playstation 4, it was a strong showing. Titles such as Day Z and Papers, Please only further demonstrates Sony’s strong support for indie games, and other upcoming titles such as Alienation and Wild both shows studio’s long time partnership with the Playstation brand and the gravitation of new developers with fresh ideas. The Vita might be absent, Morpheus may still be a work in progress, and Playstation TV may only serve as a supplementary device, but features like SHARE PLAY shows significant growth for the Playstation ecosystem (marketing speech blah, blah, blah).

Image courtesy of BeGeek 

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